This one’s a bit to the side of what I’ve been posting lately, but it’s important to me that I get it out there.
My grandmother (my mom’s mom) passed away over a month ago, and because of the contingencies and complications of life, I couldn’t be there for the funeral, which was, of course, really difficult for both me and for my family (especially my mom). She asked me, the day before the funeral, if there was anything that I would like said (or read) at the service. I had been thinking about the possibilities for this all week, but had yet to find the courage to put anything down on paper, but my mom’s question (it wasn’t a direct request, but it helped me, believing that it was) nudged me toward actually writing. I didn’t want to just cry the whole time, I didn’t want it to be sappy or soggy, so I didn’t want to sit alone in my room when I was doing this; instead, I went to my favorite coffee shop here in Rivne, where I could just sit in the corner relatively unnoticed (like I always do) and just write.
I finished in about four hours or so and sent the draft to my mother, who printed it out for me. She said that she didn’t know if she would be able to read it aloud at the service, that when she was just reading it through to herself, she had made it almost halfway through before her voice dropped out and the tears blurred the words on the page. She said that the pastor would read the letter, which was fine by me. But, then my brother, Justin, messaged me that evening to ask if he could read the letter at the service. His note was one of the best ones I have ever received and I said, Of course. I would be honored, and I couldn’t think of anyone better. Everyone said that he did a wonderful job up there, and I’m both proud and thankful of him and his reading.
I hadn’t really thought much about posting it on here, but I was looking through some of my old posts and came across one I wrote in April 2011 when my grandfather died. I’ll admit to feeling a bit guilty about not doing this sooner—I think it’s incredibly important to honor the dead while we are still living. This is the best way I know how to do so…
September 13, 2o12
Dearest family and friends,
I sometimes like to fancy myself a writer—at the very least, I am a person who sometimes writes, as well as a teacher of writing, and as such, I know that words can be powerful, can build monuments to grand ideas, to God and country, grace and beauty and peace. But, I also know very well that words can fail us, they are shy and weak often when we need them most, and even as we use them to discuss towering concepts like heaven and love, they fall short when it comes to describing something so preciously fragile and ephemeral as an individual human life. Words flee from us, they stack up at the exit, stumbling over each other when we’re asked such a simple question as “What did this person mean to you?” or “What kind of life did she live?”
How can words really capture the essence of life for someone like my Grammy or what she meant to me, what it meant for me to be her grandson and know her love? My memories and the words they produce seem like raindrops in on an ocean, or maybe like small splashes of color against the backdrop—the noisy, busy collage of Grammy’s life, or at least, what I knew of it in my 29 years with her. To be sure, my memories are relatively recent and randomly splattered, scattered on the black curtain of grief that was dropped on our heads this past Saturday.
And so, when I remember Grammy, I remember randomly and colorfully: the white sand of Mexico Beach, in younger years, Grammy in a chair on the sand (only later to move up and back to perch on the porch with Grandad, watching over us all); red powder poured in chili on a random evening my brothers and I spent at their house while our parents were out; brilliant bubble light ornaments in greens, blues, yellows, hung on the Christmas tree every year, glowing and moving like some sort of magic; boxes of crayons and pads of colored paper here at Smith Valley during Vacation Bible School or stacked on a shelf waiting for us grandkids, in the back room of the house, across from the giant water heater and near the old toybox; her loudly cheering the black and gold of Purdue on Saturdays or the flashy rainbow of Jeff Gordon’s DuPont Chevrolet on Sunday afternoons.
When I remember Grammy, I will forever remember color; and to be sure, she was a colorful character: unabashed when speaking her mind, unafraid to say what was in her heart. Even more, I’ll remember her spark, the fire that gave warmth to her love and heat to her beliefs (and at times, her temper).
My mom called me at 1:00 in the morning last Thursday to tell me that Grammy wasn’t doing well, and that the doctors were saying this would likely be the end. I asked her to tell Grammy that I loved her when she visited. My mom said that Grammy was not very responsive during her visit…except when her grandchildren were involved. Mom told me that Grammy said Todd’s name when he came into the room, and when Mom told Grammy that I loved her and was thinking about her, Grammy squeezed Aunt Kathy’s hand. Now, if I could, I would like to use my brother’s voice to say a few final words directly to you and to Grammy.
To Grammy: I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to say goodbye in the end, but I hope you knew how much I love you. I know that you loved me, there are only so many people in our lives who truly love us for who we are, and I’ve felt your love since my first breath, my first moments when it was quickly decided that I had your nose. I feel broken that you’re gone, but I know that you are at peace, free from pain, free to walk and jump and run and laugh and sing. I love you and I’ll miss you always!
To my family: I’m sorry that I am not here with you today, to stand with you and shoulder some of the sorrow in these times of living and dying. Please know that your pain is shared, spread out, stretching across the world to the little town in Ukraine where I am writing these words. In the end, please remember that the reason I am not here has a lot to do with the love and support and the example of service and sacrifice that Grammy and all of you have shown me throughout my life. Thank you so much for that! I will be home soon with new stories to tell…but I hope that we will also be able to share some old stories, remembering Grammy and all of the others who have passed on, in an attempt to piece together the beautifully colorful mosaic of the past.
I’ll remember you like yesterday…